Rare wildflower, toad making a comeback locally

Indian Knob mountain balm only grows in SLO County.
Indian Knob mountain balm only grows in SLO County.

Federal wildlife officials are considering reclassifying two rare species found in San Luis Obispo County from endangered to threatened.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has found that enough evidence exists to reclassify the Indian Knob mountain balm and the arroyo toad. The public has until Aug. 3 to comment on the proposal.

The mountain balm is found only in San Luis Obispo County, and the arroyo toad is found in portions of the Salinas River and in other coastal streams south through Southern California. The recommendations highlight the success of several local conservation efforts that have diminished the threats to some species.

In the case of the Indian Knob mountain balm, a conservation easement acquired 15 years ago by the city of San Luis Obispo on the Guidetti Ranch south of the city protected the main population of the species, which is estimated to consist of only about 500 individual plants.

The easement prevents the ranch from being developed, which is considered the plant’s main threat. Other smaller populations of the plant are in Los Osos and are on land owned by either the state Parks Department or the state Department of Fish and Game.

Ironically, the species may be suffering from too much protection. Biologists say the mountain balm needs some level of disturbance in its habitat, either through wildfire or human disturbance, in order to regenerate.

“Although anecdotal observations indicate that lack of regeneration may present a significant impediment to the recovery of (the mountain balm), the removal of the threat of development has removed the danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range,” an agency status report on the species concluded.

In the case of the arroyo toad, the agency notes that the species has disappeared from about 75 percent of its historical range and it survives in 23 small, isolated populations.

However, new populations of the toad have been found since it was first listed in 1994. The species has also benefited from the removal of invasive species that destroy its habitat and the modification of dams to maintain more natural stream flows.

“Therefore, based on the improvements in the status of the arroyo toad and conservation management to control threats that have occurred since it was listed, we recommend the species be downlisted to threatened,” a status report on the species stated.

The recommendation to reclassify the species is the result of a petition by the Pacific Legal Foundation — a Sacramento law group that works to protect private property rights — and the agency’s policy of reviewing the status of listed species every five years.

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